Alarmed by embryo destruction, Southern Baptists urge caution on IVF by couples and government

Indianapolis (AP) — Southern Baptist delegates expressed alarm Wednesday over the way in vitro fertilization is routinely being practiced, approving a resolution lamenting that the creation of surplus frozen embryos often results in “destruction of embryonic human life.”

They urged members to carefully weigh the ethical implications of the technology while also expressing sympathy with couples “who experience the searing pain of infertility.”

The resolution — approved near the end of the Southern Baptist Convention’s two-day annual meeting — affirms that embryos are human beings from the moment of fertilization, whether in the womb or generated in the laboratory via IVF. That’s the same position held by the Alabama Supreme Court in ruling that frozen embryos have the full rights of people.

In the wake of that decision, Alabama passed a law shielding IVF providers from prosecution and lawsuits — reflecting that even in a state with strong anti-abortion sentiment, there is support for a technology used by many couples facing infertility.

The resolution also urged couples to adopt surplus frozen embryos that would otherwise be destroyed.

Did the resolution condemn IVF or call for its banning?

Not in a blanket way. What it did was denounce the routine practice of creating multiple embryos, frozen for potential use but often with surplus embryos destroyed. It also denounced the use of embryos for experiments, as well as “dehumanizing methods for determining suitability for life and genetic sorting, based on notions of genetic fitness and parental preferences.”

Kristen Ferguson, chair of the committee on resolutions, said after the vote that the resolution amounts to the SBC’s first foray into a new ethnical frontier but rooted in their longstanding belief in “the sanctity of the human embryo.”

IVF “is not respecting the sanctity of the human embryo … in the way it is routinely practiced,” she said. “Right now we’re trying to open the conversation, remind Southern Baptists of our long-held beliefs of the sanctity of human life and allow them to begin to think through the ethical implications.”

She anticipated there may be resolutions with “much stronger language” and more specific applications in the future, such as how these issues relate to the medical community, she said.

“But we are not speaking to that at this time, because Southern Baptists aren’t ready to speak to that yet,” she said. “They wanted to say an affirmation of the human embryo and that it has implications for IVF. ”

Why is this an important issue for Southern Baptists?

Ever since the nation’s largest Protestant body took a conservative turn in the 1980s, it has made opposing abortion a top priority. With the overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, new issues have reached the forefront, including IVF.

This resolution makes clear that Southern Baptists’ belief that life begins at conception extends to embryos generated via IVF.

Do Southern Baptists and other conservative evangelicals have consensus on IVF?

No. On the convention floor, some delegates gave impassioned testimony to how IVF enabled couples to have long-sought children. Others said that despite that laudable goal, the practice is ethically unacceptable.

Some believe it’s ethical to use IVF to create only the number of embryos intended for implantation.

Albert Mohler, a prominent SBC seminary president and conservative activist, made a hardline denunciation of IVF at a sideline event before the SBC meeting on Monday, calling IVF a “commodification of the embryo” that assaults human dignity. He also criticized it for enabling people to have children outside of heterosexual marriage.

Did the resolution call for a government ban on IVF?

No. It calls for government to “restrain actions inconsistent with the dignity of … frozen embryonic human beings.” But it doesn’t prescribe specific measures.

“I think especially after the Alabama Supreme Court decision, there’s been a rush at state level as well as federal level to protect IVF or to even expand IVF access, often with very little thought to some of the other realities at stake,” said Jason Thacker, a Southern Baptist ethicist who advised the resolutions committee.

“We’re not naive enough to say that we can just ban this technology, full stop,” he said. “While that would be the goal, because that’s consistent with dignity of the human embryo in many ways,” he said he recognized that there are others who believe there are ethical ways to apply IVF technology.

What’s essential, he said, is laws that respect embryos’ human dignity.

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